Connections

It’s amazing how music connects us, and connects us so powerfully – for example, connecting us to a memory in the past, just like a familiar smell would. Causing us to remember good times, or hard times, or both. Surely this has also happened to you?

Like this one. Every. Single. Time. I Hear. This. Song—(“Centerfield” by John Fogarty)—I smile.

Immediately, I’m transported back to a memory of a very specific place and time, and I can’t help but bust out into a grin. I was on a long bicycle trip ( that’s a whole other story, for another day…), touring through the Midwest. And somewhere along the way —Illinois or Indiana maybe? — there were these crazy summertime road construction detours, taking me farther than I wanted to go that day. And I was really in no mood to put in an extra who-knows-how-many-miles to get to where I wanted to go.

But, then some stranger offered me a ride through the detour, back to where I could easily get back to the main road, to where I wanted to be. So… there I was, sitting in the back bed of some stranger’s truck, my loaded-down bicycle riding along next to me… and John Fogarty’s “Centerfield” cranked up on the radio and wafting back to me through the open windows. Soooo… years (and I do mean many, many, years) later, my connection to that song is just as strong and immediate as if the experience had happened a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I did hear the song just a couple of weeks ago. Guess what ?? It made me smile. And remember a helper who swooped in that day and rescued me from a little bit of despair.

While “Centerfield” makes me smile, this one (“The Only Name (Yours Will Be)” by Big Daddy Weave) makes me fight back the tears, because it reminds me of a time when we had just lost a good friend. He had departed from this world and passed on to be with Jesus, his Savior, in the next world.

I could feel happy for him, that he was no longer in pain, but oh my, the ache of how we would be missing him here. When this song came on the car radio that evening after he had left us, all I could do was sit in the parking lot and let the tears roll down my face as I listened to the lyrics:

“When I wake up in the Land of Glory
With the saints I will tell my story
There will be one name that I proclaim

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, just that name
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, just that name”

– and I knew that my friend was doing that very thing. That. Very. Day.

Music, just like a scent or an image or a place, connects us powerfully to our past memories.

Sometimes, I think music connects us to a broader sense of our past: as members of one corporate body of Christ, music can connect us together in ways that I think we can’t even quite understand completely. Take one of my very favoritest hymns (Favoritest… that’s a word, right?) , “A Mighty Fortress is our God” by Martin Luther. Yes, THAT Martin Luther… you know, the guy who unintentionally started the reformation and who later wrote this song (somewhere around 1529). According to Wikipedia, 


“…A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (German: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott) is one of the best known hymns by the reformer Martin Luther, a prolific hymnodist. Luther wrote the words and composed the melody sometime between 1527 and 1529. It has been translated into English at least seventy times and also into many other languages. The words are a paraphrase of Psalm 46.”

Did this kinda make you stop and catch your breath, like it does to me? I mean, THIS SAME HYMN has been sung for almost 500 years now. FIVE HUNDRED YEARS. When I sing this hymn, I can’t help but reflect on the generations and generations of Christian believers that have been singing this song and declaring their faith over the last five centuries. Not only has it been sung for the last 500 years, but it’s been sung throughout a multitude of protestant churches across many different countries in many different languages.  And now—referring back to Wikipedia again—it says,

“In addition to being consistently popular … in Protestant hymnbooks, it is now a suggested hymn for Catholic Masses in the U.S., and appears in the Catholic Book of Worship published by the Canadian Catholic Conference in 1972.”

So now, this hymn that was created by the Catholic Martin Luther, and then was adopted wholeheartedly by the Lutheran Church and other protestant churches that sprung up from the whole Luther stir-up, this very hymn is now back in a Catholic Book of Worship… 

This just astounds me. Not only does music connect us to our own past, it also connects us to a past that we haven’t experienced directly, but yet we share: the past of a shared history in the body of Christ. Even though varied parts of the body have different practices and rituals, the Scripture about “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all”  (Ephesians 4: 5, 6) holds true. And music is one way – maybe one of the best ways – for that connection to be felt.

Music connects us to our own memories and also connects us to the pasts of other people that we’re connected with in Christ.

Maybe, just maybe, that’s one reason why Scripture tells us over and over to SING.

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:19,20

I encourage you to find a song today, and SING, and give thanks for the connections that we have.

Going to the Beach

GalvestonBeach

We went to the beach a few weekends ago. It was Galveston. With its brown, muddy water and dull, brown, course-grained sand—you know, a beach that will never cause anyone to be jealous when selfie pics are posted on Instagram, or Facebook, or insert social media app of choice. Odds are, this beach will never make anyone say “WOW! that’s GORGEOUS, I can’t wait to go THERE for my summer vacation – let me put that on my bucket list!” 

Uummmmm, yeah, said no one ever. 

Galveston is the “we live an hour(ish) away from this beach, and thunderstorms are predicted in the hill country where we were supposed to go camping, so let’s go there instead”  beach.

But you know what? It was still the ocean. 

And even with the not-so-glamorous scenery and the wind that was causing rough, choppy, not-so-perfect waves, there is just something about the ocean. It’s so… big… So powerful. So… massive.

Rolling. Vast. Unmeasured. Boundless.

Sound like a song yet?  More specifically, sound like any old hymns?

O the Deep, Deep, Love of Jesus (written by Samuel Trevor Francis, b. 1835, England):

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast unmeasured, boundless, free
Rolling as a mighty ocean, in its fullness over me
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, evermore…

Just like the ocean rolls on and on and on, so the love of Jesus continues on and on and on for us. Never ending, “changeth never. ” NEVER. ENDING.  CHANGETH. NEVER…  EVER.

This is the tune that I think of when I think of this hymn- it’s the one I grew up hearing.  And I love this version by Selah on their Hiding Place album:

But, in the providence of God, I heard this other version just tonight on Spotify while I was doing dishes and thinking about the fact that I needed to finally finish up this blog post.  So for those that might want to hear a different version, here’s the same words, sung by Audrey Assad on her Inheritance album to a tune that might be more familiar to you:

Still beautiful.  Still rolling – just like the ocean.  Just like Jesus’ love for us.  NEVER. ENDING.

There is something special about going to the ocean.

A Relentless Chopin Prelude Points to Never-Ending Love

One of my husband’s very favorite piano pieces is Chopin’s Prelude Opus 28, #15 in D flat major. Whaaaattt ? You don’t know it? It’s not one of your favorites on your Spotify playlist? Hahahaha — just kidding, I don’t expect you to know it. It’s also commonly known as his “Raindrop” prelude. Written somewhere between 1835 and 1839, it is well known—OK, among classical pianists and a few piano students, anyway—for its “repeating A flat, which appears throughout the piece. The A-flat sounds like raindrops to many listeners…”[1]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sh03YXzvDF4

Throughout a couple of key changes—from the D flat major with its pleasant melodic section …

to a stormy and harsher section C# minor …

and back to D flat…

…that A flat (G#) just continues its relentless, methodic dripping.

On and on and on and on and on.

I used to think of it as a little depressing and so I always wondered why my husband wanted me to play that piece. I mean, I liked it and all, but really? In the back of my mind was the vague memory of my piano teacher telling me about Chopin, and something about water dripping on his heart…  And apparently, I didn’t make that up.  According to Wikipedia, Chopin’s mistress (George Sand) wrote in her book  Histoire de ma vie that Chopin had told her about a dream where he had drowned and heavy drops of ice water were falling on his breast. Most people associate that story with this piece. Depressing, right?

But somewhere over the last few years, the music stopped being so depressing to me and became encouraging instead. Because that incessant, repeated, note? That’s like the note of Jesus Christ throughout our lives, if we’re believers.

Throughout every change in our lives –

the ups, the major keys, the uplifting moments, through the pleasant times, God is there.  And through the downs, through the minor keys and the sad, hard times – our God is still there.

Relentlessly pursuing a relationship with us, regardless of what the circumstances of our lives look like.

Whether things are flowing and melodious or stormy and chaotic. That note of Jesus Christ and his grace is pressing in, never going away, persistently present.

  • Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). 
  • He has loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with unfailing lovingkindness (Jeremiah 31:3). 
  • When we pass through the waters, he will be with us. When we pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over us (Isaiah 43: 2).
  • He is an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
  • He will never leave us and will never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

So here’s my challenge to you. 

Next time you hear some piece of music that sounds repetitive, maybe even monotonous? Reflect on God’s ever-present, never-ending love for you. Next time you are tempted to give up because things look rocky all around you and circumstances are hard? Go listen to Chopin’s raindrop prelude and reflect on God’s promise to be with you. On and on and on and on.

Now I get why my husband likes it so much.


[1] Fishko, Sara (2010-03-19). “The Fishko Files: Chopin’s ‘Raindrop’ Prelude”. WNYC. Archived from the original on 2012-10-02. Accessed on 2019-04-07.

5 Things God Says About Us

Some time ago, I was reading in Isaiah and came across these verses in chapter 56:

Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will sure exclude me from his people” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose what pleases me… to them I will give… a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath… these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy…”

(Isaiah 56:3-7 , NIV)

I know we don’t go around talking about eunuchs much (ummm, I know I certainly don’t!!), but the thing that stopped me was that phrase ” I am only…” and I couldn’t help but think of how often that phrase runs through my mind and I complain to myself, or more accurately, to the Lord, that “I can’t do this, I am only… ”

Because in my life? and probably yours too — it is so, so easy to say that. Do any of these words sound familiar? Do any thoughts like these run on repeat, like a litany through your mind?
I am only… a wife and mother. Tired of chasing littles or exhausted by a teenager’s attitude or desperately waiting and longing for a child of my own.
I am only… a teenager struggling to fit in and get good grades and a date for next weekend.
I am only… a worker bee trying to support my family and find joy and purpose in a schedule packed with meetings or in the humdrum of business.
I am only…
I am only… a construction worker, a programmer, an engineer, an admin assistant, a teacher, a student, an accountant. I am not a pastor, church worker, missionary, bible-educated scholar, I am not ____.
I am only… a hack piano player who enjoys music but doesn’t have the talent of ____.
I am only… a weak and sinful person. I am not beautiful, pulled-together, righteous person, full of grace and truth, pouring God’s word out like a river, I am not like ____.
I am only___ .
You fill in the blank. This list could go on and on. I know, because I’ve tried many of those excuses myself.

No one should complain “I am only…” or doubt His promises to us.

But what does God say? He says “let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only’…

And who does God say we are, if we have turned away from sin and turned toward Christ? The flipside to the fact that I have a whole long list of “I am only” excuses in my head is that if I bothered to believe what the Bible says, I could also experience a whole long list of God’s promises! Here are just five things — among the many — that God says about us:

  • I am chosen – 1 Peter 2:9 – ” But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession…”
  • I am not forsaken – Hebrews 13:5 – God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
  • I am a child of God – John 1:12 – ” to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
  • I am set free from sin by the truth of Jesus Christ – John 8:31-36 – “the truth will set you free … So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. “
  • I am looking forward to an eternal home that Christ is preparing for me – John 14:1-3 – “I am going there to prepare a place for you…”

And if any of this is starting to sound familiar, maybe it is because you’ve heard the song called “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong .

Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
I am chosen
Not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me
Not against me
I am who You say I am
(Words and music by Ben Fielding and Reuben Morgan,
© 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing)

So just remember. Remember the next time you hear that song. Remember when your brain starts to give the excuse that “I can’t do that, I’m only…”

No one should complain “I am only… ” but remember that you are who God says you are. You are chosen, loved, ransomed, and set free… because of Jesus.

334 Years Later, Bach Harmony Lives On

ohmygoodness, I went to Google earlier today and lookee what I found! Happy Birthday, Johann Sebastian Bach!

https://www.google.com/doodles/celebrating-johann-sebastian-bach

As soon as I saw that Google Doodle, I knew I had to whip up SOME sort of blog post about Bach. Johann Sebastian Bach is definitely one of my favorite composers. And, as my brief 20 minutes of Internet research showed me, apparently many people believe him to be the greatest composer EVER. No doubt because of his beautiful harmonies and complex multi-part melodies that intertwine between, for example, the treble and bass lines of a score .

The Google Doodle uses AI (artificial intelligence) to take a simple melody that the user has created and to expand it into a Bach-like rich harmony. The Google backstory says that “With the press of a button, the Doodle then uses machine learning to harmonize the custom melody into Bach’s signature music style …
Specifically, Coconet [the machine learning tool] was trained on 306 of Bach’s chorale harmonizations. His chorales always have four voices, each carrying their own melodic line, while creating a rich harmonic progression when played together. ”

One of my very favorite piano pieces that I played back in the day was a Bach three-part invention, #3 Allegro moderato in D. Yep, here’s my ancient piano book, with the markings still there from my piano teacher to help me out with the accidentals and phrasing and such (the red check mark baffles me a little and makes me wonder which piano teacher this was and why she would have used a red pen on music… but I digress…).

The Google backstory goes on to say “Composing music at a prolific pace (sometimes at the rate of one cantata per week!), Bach was a humble man who attributed his success to divine inspiration and a strict work ethic. ”

As a matter of fact, Bach was well known for signing his work “Soli Deo Gloria” — “To the glory of God alone ” — after he finished composing a piece . He did it for the massive number of church works he composed. He did it for the secular works he composed. Just think — Bach cello suites, organ music like Toccata and Fugue in D minor (one of my son’s favorites!) — all written to the glory of God, even though there’s NO WORDS associated with them. How can this be? I think Bach understood something that we often forget in the modern American church: that all our lives are to be given to God and used for his glory — not just the “sacred” and not avoiding the “secular.” But all of it.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says ” So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do,
do it all for the glory of God. “

And not only that, but it’s possible that Bach, with his “strict work ethic,” was able to create those thousands of musical compositions because he took to heart the Scripture encouragement found in Colossians:

Colossians 3:23, 24 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…It is the Lord Christ you are serving. ”

So what can we learn from this guy whose melodies are still resonating with people, over 300 years after they were written? Well, here’s some ideas:

  • Harmonies are important. In our music and in our lives. If Bach’s harmonies weren’t so critical to his music, the AI/machine learning tool that undergirds this Google Doodle wouldn’t have had to analyze hundreds of his compositions to understand his methods. Just think if we only had a single melody line instead of the complex chords and multiple lines of melodies moving from one part of the piece to another? how boring and plain would that be? Harmonies in Bach’s music works together, sorta like how the multiple, varied, church of Jesus Christ, with all its different members and gifts, should work together to serve each other for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7).
  • Music that brings glory to God may not always sound like the current “church music” style. While we might immediately think of Bach’s music like St. Matthew’s Passion or the Mass in B minor and associate it with sacred music — some detractors in Bach’s time actually thought that his music was too “showy” and told him that ” Music should be simple so that it draws attention to God, not to the music or the performers. ” So even though now when we hear Bach organ music, we think of pipe organs in soaring church cathedrals, it wasn’t appropriate (they thought at the time…) for worshiping God! (Christianity.com article about J.S. Bach)
  • As Bach showed by dedicating all of his work to “Soli Deo Gloria,” we don’t need to necessarily be doing “church work” to bring glory to God. Let’s bring all our lives and all our energies to glorify Him, whether that is by doing a job with excellence and integrity (whatever that job is) or whether that is sharing the good news of the gospel to someone who has never heard before.

So that’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Let’s follow Bach’s example and see how we can live “Soli Deo Gloria.”

And maybe listen to a little Bach along the way for inspiration. Enjoy!

Can’t I get rid of this mess?

News flash: People don’t like messy. I don’t like messy. Oh don’t get me wrong —  I can live with the piles of messy on my desk. For a long time, in all honesty. But I’m talking about a different kind of messy: Like messy relationships where people’s feelings get hurt, expectations are not met, or words are spoken in anger that cannot be reeled back in. Relationships with spouses, children, parents, or friends that can be challenging and uncomfortable and sometimes much less than what you want. Or messy finances where you’re trying to figure out how to juggle the bills that are bigger than the amount of money that is coming in and which bills could slide until that next paycheck/paying customer/project comes in. Or the messy career path – you know the one —  where all of a sudden there’s been a downturn in your industry and you keep looking around you at all the people getting laid off. Until one of those people… is you. THAT’s the kind of unkempt chaos I’m talking about.

Who wants any of THAT kind of messy? I’m 99.9999% positive that if I asked you if you wanted any of THAT sort of messy in your life, that your answer would be ummm, NO.   NO, NO, NO, thank you very much, I would like my relationships, my finances, my career plans, my health, my… whatever… to be perfect. I want my life to always be looking up, always getting better, moving upward and onward to the next terrifically fantastic thing.

By now you’re wondering what in the world this post has to do with music or faith. Maybe you can see a tie-in to faith – “Oh, right, Cindy, I get it – you’re gonna talk about how we’ve gotta have faith that God is working out all things for our good, Romans 8:28 and all…”   Well… yes… He HAS promised to work out good for those of us who love Him and have been called by Him.  But that’s not my point.

My point is that while we don’t want life to be messy, God doesn’t shy away from the messy.

We want life to be a neat package wrapped up in a bow, always moving onward and upward, climbing effortlessly up that next hill (without breaking a sweat, of course).   We want our faith to be like that. We want God’s salvation to come to us like that. Shrink-wrapped and sanitized and neatly packaged up for us with five easy steps to becoming a true saint . But the reality? Our faith IS messy.

And here’s where the music comes in. There’s this great song called “O Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship – it’s a popular one among those that listen to contemporary Christian/worship/praise tunes, so maybe you’ve heard it.

I can wait right here while you go listen to it if you’d like.  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYQ5yXCc_CA

It’s got this lovely, waltz-like, 6/8 beat that makes you want to sway to the rhythm.


One – two – three, four – five – six…

with words that say, “O come to the altar,
the Father’s arms are open wide.”
 

Doesn’t that sound beautiful? welcoming? Can’t you just picture the scene of the prodigal son, where even after the rebellious son has blown his inheritance and rejected his father in the worst of ways, the father goes running to his son to welcome him back with open arms?  

Or what about the altar? Can’t you just see the  beautifully carved table, sitting in the front of the church building, holding the communion bread and wine, just waiting for us to come celebrate that Jesus lived for us, died for us, and is coming back again for us?

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

BUT. Hold on.

Let’s stop and think about that altar. Have you ever thought about what an altar looked like in the Old Testament? Now, I’m no Old Testament scholar. Believe me!  I haven’t done any big (or small!) studies about the sacrifices. But here’s what I do know: back in the day, in the days of Moses or King David, when a bull was sacrificed as a sin offering, the priest sprinkled  blood all sorts of places (“around the curtain of the sanctuary”), then dipped his finger into the blood and smeared it onto the horns of the altar. The priest poured out the bull’s blood at the base of the altar (Leviticus 4, among other places). The bull was ripped apart so that the organs and fat were burned on the altar and the hide and… other parts… were taken outside the camp to be burned. Ugggh.  Can I just say… yuck?!?!

And on great occasions, when the people were going all-in with worship and celebration, it wasn’t just one bull.  Some days, like when King David transferred the kingdom over to his son Solomon (1 Chronicles 29: 21), there were a THOUSAND bulls slaughtered and sacrificed as part of worship.  So, back to that altar ? I’m thinking it wasn’t really so beautiful. I’m thinking it was MESSY.  Are you ready to come to a messy altar like that ?

And the chorus continues:

“Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ”

Just like our lives don’t get packaged up neatly, our salvation didn’t come packaged up in a neat bow.  Our God has been in the mess with us, from the very beginning.  God ordained messy, bloody sacrifices in the Old Testament for the forgiveness of sins.  In the New Testament, we find out that God the Father sent Jesus to be born, in the flesh, as a human baby. And he lived in the broken, dirty, world of the Roman empire before being crucified on a cross as the perfect, bloody sacrifice that we needed for forgiveness of sins for all time and for all people.

So, go back and listen to the song again. It really is a great song.  Just think about it, God is in the messy with us. He is not shying away from the messiness of our lives. So let’s come to the altar.

“O come to the altar,
the Father’s arms are open wide.
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ. Oh what a Savior, isn’t he wonderful?”